WEST BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- For modern generations the events of the Holocaust are something learned about in school text books or a re-enactment in Hollywood movies; however, for some like Martin "Marty" Weiss, it was a horrific reality that has never been forgotten.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division held a Holocaust Remembrance Program in the Melville- Taylor Auditorium in West Bethesda, Maryland, April 13 to recognize those who lost their life and to hear Weiss' remarkable story of survival. At the beginning of the program, Carderock Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Vandroff and Technical Director Dr. Tim Arcano joined Weiss on stage for the ceremonial lighting of six candles; each candle representing one million of the six million people who died as the result of the Holocaust.
In an inspirational, yet often times somber and emotional story, it was evident Weiss still holds great pain from the atrocities that he and his family faced. Born in 1929 in Polana, Czechoslovakia, Weiss was one of nine children in what he described as a good life in a town where his father supported the family as a farmer and meat distributor and his mother raised him and his siblings in a traditional orthodox Jewish household.
"Our life was good. My father had a business; we also had farmland and we grew our own food," Weiss said. "All of us worked very hard, and from the time I can remember we all - once we were big enough - would help. I remember we were very content and everything was fine until the war came."
According to Weiss, Czechoslovakia had become an independent democracy after World War I, Weiss and his family were proud citizens of the newly formed nation. In 1939, Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and divided the country into sections of Nazi control and Hungarian control. Weiss' town was put under Hungarian control but was still subjected to many of the Nuremburg Laws that acted to cripple the Jewish community by confiscating businesses and land.
"The next thing they did was take the Jewish men of age and put them in special battalions in their army. My brothers endured the jobs they would give these men. They would use them for picking mine fields and vetting the dead."
Weiss said in April 1944, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews, including him and his family, were arrested and deported to the Munkacs Ghetto where they were forced into slave labor. Beginning in May of that same year, Weiss and his family were among the nearly 440,000 Jews deported from Hungary to Auschwitz.
"As soon as we came to Auschwitz, by then we were prepared for anything, but nobody was prepared for Auschwitz," Weiss said. "There's just no way that we could have known because we were ignorant of it. We knew about the killings, we knew about the wars, but this is something that was out of our belief. We came during the night and it must have been around midnight, and as soon as they opened the boxcar they started screaming and yelling German; a lot of the stuff we understood, but a lot of the stuff we didn't. There were flood lights pointing at us and we could see the barbed wire all around us - electrified barbed wire. They had soldiers surrounding us every five or six feet, each with their finger on the trigger of a rifle. It was scary. But more than that, there were trained killer police dogs; if you can imagine, we came from a society where we didn't know any violence like this, we just didn't have it.
"Families were holding on to each other as not to be separated. I always say that if I was to paint a scene of hell, I don't think I could think of something as nasty as this. The first thing they did is separate the men from the women, and as they separated us, everybody again tried to hold on to their children. There was an officer standing there with a shiny uniform like a Hollywood movie, shiny uniform, shiny boots, and he would have us line up and all he would do was look at you and point left or right. If you went to the right you were fit for work, if he pointed to the left you were going to your death."
Weiss said he found out shortly after the arrival that he was the only boy his age from his town to survive. After a brief stay at Auschwitz, Weiss and his father were transported to Melk, a sub-camp of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Weiss said in Melk, prisoners were forced to carve tunnels into sides of mountains, where his father died from exhaustion and starvation.
After enduring months of grueling labor and atrocious living conditions, Weiss was liberated by the U.S. Army in May 1945. According to Weiss' biography included in the event program, Weiss was able to return to Czechoslovakia where he was eventually reunited with his older sister and his oldest brother who had survived the war in the Hungarian labor battalion. Weiss made it to New York in July 1946 and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War before entering the grocery business in 1955.
At the conclusion of the program, Vandroff, who is a member of the same synagogue as Weiss, presented Weiss with a certificate of appreciation and wished him "yasher koach," which is a Hebrew expression said to someone who has touched them with their words and translates in English to "May your strength be increased."
Weiss and his wife, Joan, currently reside in Bethesda, Maryland, and they have two children and four grandchildren. He is currently a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where he has dedicated his time to educating visitors for nearly 20 years.
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